Department of Homeland Security contract seeks to ‘hack’ game consoles to obtain user data

microsoft plans to dominate the world of entertainment with kinect xbox 360

Anyone who has ever played a few games of Call of Duty or Halo online knows that communities like Xbox Live aren’t exactly models of good behavior. But the federal government believes the occasional bursts of profanity may not be the worst of what’s going on according with consoles, and it wants a way to dig deeper.

According to forensic experts, pedophiles are increasingly using gaming systems to exploit children, while terrorists are using it for communication. With this evidence, a contract was awarded on April 5 by the Naval Supply Systems Command to Obscure Technologies for the research and development of “hardware and software tools that can be used for extracting data from video game systems.”

With today’s practice of owners jailbreaking consoles in order to play pirated games, gaming companies have fought back with hard-to-break encryptions. As a result, the extraction of data, according to the contract, is a rather complex process and one that the Department of Homeland Security believes can only be achieved by Obscure Technologies. For the small San Francisco computer diagnostics and forensics company, likely with sales under $500,000 and less than five employees, the contract award was for a sum of $177,235.50.

“Analysis of the game systems requires specific knowledge of working with the hardware of embedded systems that have significant anti-tampering technology. Obscure Technologies has substantial experience in working with such systems. Obscure Technologies has the ability to do cradle-to-grave turnkey servicing of complete hardware systems design,” the contract states. But what may have attracted the government to this company was its lead engineer’s ability to reverse engineer Microsoft’s Xbox.

According to Foreign Policy, which first broke the story, law enforcement agencies came to the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate requesting a system that can extract data from consoles. The DHS then delegated the responsibilities of heading the research and executing the contract to the Naval Postgraduate School.

With the multi-function nature of modern consoles, including access to social networking profiles, the Internet and peer-to-peer messaging, there’s plenty of interest to law enforcement, but it’s difficult to access. Under the impression that game console data is impervious to being hacked and therefore safe from authorities, pedophiles have in fact been using consoles as a haven for exploitation. In 2008, the FBI announced the alarming rate with which Xbox Live was being used by pedophiles for luring and communicating with children.

Aware of the issues surrounding privacy, the contract explicitly states that Obscure Technologies will only crack consoles purchased out of the United States for the duration of the research. As for the data to be extracted from the overseas consoles, the DHS plans on making their research and data publicly available at conferences and academic journals, but under the “constraints of the Common Rule (CFR 46) governing the use of human subject data.” In other words, any identifiable information pertaining to the owner of the consoles will be scrubbed.

While law enforcement officials have expressed their interest in obtaining gaming information for the purpose of identifying predators and terrorists, you can’t help but wonder about how officials will begin using the to be developed technology for the other purposes, as well.

Emerging Tech

Singapore uses its smart city tech to help citizens cut through the red tape

Like many governments, Singapore’s puts citizens through plenty of red tape. But as part of its smart-city initiatives, the government is using tech to remove layers of bureaucracy.
Business

Apple loses battle to use Intel modems in Germany in latest clash with Qualcomm

Apple is following the Federal Trade Commission's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.
Computing

Blockchain does way more than power Bitcoin. Here's how it works

What is a blockchain? It was once merely an academic idea and today it's the backbone of the cryptographic industry, helping to send billions of dollars worth of digital assets all over the world.
Cars

Keep your driving record squeaky clean with these top-flight radar detectors

Nobody likes getting a speeding ticket, but these gadgets can help. Check out our picks for the best radar detectors on the market, from the likes of Valentine One, Escort, and Beltronics.
Computing

These Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts will take your skills to a new level

Windows 10 has many new features, and they come flanked with useful new keyboard shortcuts. Check out some of the new Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts to improve your user experience and save more time!
Computing

What is Wi-Fi 6? Here's a look at the next evolution of the wireless standard

We're exploring the new naming convention for wireless standards, how it affects the devices you buy, and what the upcoming Wi-Fi generation is changing for the better.
Computing

Windows is getting a face-lift in 2020, but you can get a sneak peek right now

Microsoft is increasing the lead time for an upcoming major update to Windows 10, giving Windows Insiders the ability to test it right now, even though it's not set for release until 2020.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-powered website creates freakishly lifelike faces of people who don’t exist

No, this isn't a picture of a missing person. It's a face generated by a new artificial intelligence on the website ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com. Here's how the impressive A.I. works.
Deals

The best Presidents’ Day sales 2019: Amazon, Walmart, Dell, and more

Presidents' Day sales are a great chance to score electronics, clothing, home and office stuff, and other goodies at a discount. We’ve smoked out a large handful of the best of these Presidents' Day deals, from tech to bedding, to help…
Deals

Keep your MacBook safe and dry with an Under Armour backpack for under $50

Under Armour is having a huge sale this weekend to help you on your quest for a better backpack. The UA Outlet Exclusive sale is going on now through Monday, February 18th, offering great discounts on stormproof backpacks.
Deals

Walmart Presidents’ Day sale: Instant Pot, Google Home, and 4K TV deals

Presidents' Day weekend is one of the best times of the year to find deep discounts on 4K TVs, laptops, Instant Pots, clothes, mattresses, and furniture. And Walmart is offering deals on all of those things and more.
Computing

The HoloLens 2 will be announced at MWC. Here's what we know about it so far

The HoloLens 2 is ripe for an announcement. Here's what Microsoft has revealed so far, what's likely in store for the next generation HoloLens, and everything that we know about this mixed reality headset.
Computing

Don't know what to do with all your old DVDs? Here's how to convert them to MP4

Given today's rapid technological advancements, physical discs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Check out our guide on how to convert a DVD to MP4, so you can ditch discs for digital files.
Computing

Wi-Fi helps connect all of our devices at high-speed, but what exactly is it?

What is Wi-Fi? It's a technology we all use everyday to connect all of our portable devices, but understanding how it works and how far it's come from its humble beginnings is another thing entirely.